Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Magic Waters of Paradise

Of all the places that one can be, apart perhaps from the arms of a loved one, or relaxing in the unique and civilized atmosphere of a well-run English public house, as so many of them were in long decades past, then the best place in the world to be is where clear fresh inland waters softly meet and combine with equally clear salt waters of the deep mysterious sea.

For there, where a remote river or stream runs into the sea, is a paradise.

Like all other desirable locations, most of these places have long been trampled underfoot by the millions of people who over time have joined those first few lucky dwellers who originally discovered such secluded places back in the dawn of human history.

But some magic places do still exist and even though they are far fewer today they are therefore all the more precious. And they are especially alluring when situated in a distant unpopulated region where they have the chance to remain seemingly pristine.

Such were several small rivers we lucky few aboard the MV Theron found along the Labrador coast, more than half a century ago.

One of them remains especially vivid in my memory.

This river wound down through a sheltered pocket of mainly spruce, and other evergreen trees, and during the low water of the ebb tide it flowed across about two hundred feet of a wide stone and pebbled sandy beach.

Because the river’s flow over the flat beach was unimpeded by the low-water state of the tide, the stream’s water flowed softly over a shallow path narrowed to but one hundred feet. By treading on the exposed tops of the smooth rounded or flattened, and now partly dried stones, one could step over the flow and cross to either bank dry shod. And intriguingly, though the fresh water flowing down amongst the stones was but four or five inches at its deepest, yet these thin waters were thick with fish.

Most every cast of a tiny fly alighting between the smooth stones, though set by nature only inches apart, would bring a strike by a perfectly-formed brook trout of twelve or fourteen inches length.

Some of these fish were silvery from many days or weeks in the salt water, others were less silvery according to their recent whereabouts. Many were just one-day first-time excursionists, freshly down from the upper reaches of the wooded stream and fully clad in their conventional fresh water olive-green sides and back adorned with brilliant crimson or golden spots surrounded with light blue halos.

Though usually called speckled or brook trout, these char, as such they are, are as perfect a fish as ever were created by the evolutionary design committee responsible for their production. Wonderful to look at, superb to angle for, matchless in their flavour when lightly fried in butter, they are nothing less than ultra-divine.

It was on that day that I squashed down all the barbs on my flies and hooks and never used another barbed hook again. It is just a more sporting and satisfying way to fish and also so very much easier to release a fish unharmed. There is no need to squeeze or mishandle a fish and roughly mangle its mouth by wrenching with pliers like those cackling, loudmouthed boors who star in the TV fishing shows.

Just a few hundred feet up this little river we came to a multi-channelled waterfall with a deep pool under its drop. Further up in its course the water came tumbling down from a series of more gentle waterfalls and was interspersed with several deep pools until a mile or so inland we came to its source, the last of a series of lakes and their connecting streams stretching inland back into the mountains. By the time we returned down river to the coast the tide had made almost full. Now, in the deeper mixed fresh and salt waters moving over those stones which had been dry but a few hours before, we took a brace or two of handsome salmon and some equally valued arctic char. Also taken were some whitefish but these fish are not in the same class as the other salmonoids just mentioned.

At this time of high water, or when the tide is nearly full, the fresh water from such streams rolls over atop the sea water in an upper layer just inches thick. And often, salt species such as herring and capelin and other quick fish will jump with the excitement and attraction of its novel mixing. And, salmon or large arctic char may be seen swimming with their dorsal fins protruding, almost shark-like in fashion, as they wander around, pondering their inscrutable decisions concerning their entering of the river proper or waiting offshore for another later but higher tide.

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